“There’s nobody like her, never was and probably never will be. In trying to describe Norman’s artistry, a critic inevitably finds himself falling into the lamest of clichés – ‘oceanic power’, ‘force of nature’, ‘larger than life presence’ and so on. But in Norman’s case, all of the clichés ring true: This gigantic woman with the gigantic voice is one of a kind. Posterity will envy us for having her in our midst.”
Tim Page, The Washington Post (1997)
Great Interpreters: Jessye Norman
Broadcast “live” on Fine Music Radio on 16 January 2009.
American soprano Jessye Norman is regarded as one of the most renowned and celebrated singers of our time. Her voice, simply by its sheer power, is remarkable, while the opulence, velvety, seductive and creamy richness of her vocal timbre, the direct and emotionally expressive qualities of her singing and her formidable intellectual understanding of the music that she interprets, has made her a true vocal phenomenon: “Art on nature’s scale, at once grand and intimate,” is how one critic summed up Norman.
A true “diva,” both in the positive and negative sense of the word, she is known for her magnetic and dramatic personality, a force all her own, and, according to one critic, “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who is not simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing.”
“The greatness of music speaks for itself when Jessye Norman sings,’’ wrote Octavio Roca in The Washington Post after one of her early Kennedy Center recitals, reflecting years later in The Washington Times that “listening to Jessye Norman find her way into a song is like watching in wonder as a beautiful morning reaches the climax of noon. Warmth and blinding light are everywhere in her voice.” That same formidable voice was described by Edward Rothstein in The New York Times as “a grand mansion of sound. It defines an extraordinary space. It has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas. It contains sunlit rooms, narrow passageways, and cavernous falls.”
Norman once said that she simply “would like it to be that it made a difference to some people that she came and went, that she was here.” Looking back on a long and distinguished career one can certainly say that Jessye Norman has made a difference to anyone who loves music, and indeed it matters quite a lot that she is here.
“O Hehrstes Wunder!” (excerpt) from Act III of Die Walküre (Richard Wagner)
Hildegard Behrens (Brünnhilde)
Jessye Norman (Sieglinde)
Conductor: James Levine
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra